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Learning about "Pho Stock"

To all, I am trying to learn to make Vietnamese Pho. Last week, I hadgot hold of some fresh rice stick noodle. I tried this following recipe:


but the stock didn't come out quiet right. It smelled similar to those from the various restaurants I have been to, but it did not taste quiet right. For one, it wasn't salty enough. I then added more salt and fish sauce, but it still did not taste right.

This weekend I tried this recipe with a slightly modification. I added a lemon grass.


The overall recipe is really similar to the last one. Again, it smelled correct, and it tasted a bit closer, but still not salty as I remember it. I then doubled the salt and fish sauce. Now, it tastes much closer. I think the lemon grass help a lot to bring in that sour taste. So I have two theories:

1) the recipes used by various Vietnamese restaurants simply have more seasoning and salt than home recipes, or

2) these two online recipes I have are simply more subtle and delicate than the norm.

For people who grew up eating Vietnamese Pho at home, do you find the restaurant version more savory and more tasty? Or do you think they are just about the same. Thanks.

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  1. [quote]the recipes used by various Vietnamese restaurants simply have more seasoning and salt than home recipes.

    I don't think it's a function of home vs. restaurant, but how do you like your food seasoned.
    For 2 gallons of liquid, I'd say the second recipe is short on salt and sugar, and possibly fish sauce.

    You're basically making beef stock with asian spices. When I do mine, I start with a base recipe similar to the two above, then add salt, sugar and fish sauce as needed as the process goes along. Unless you have a TNT recipe that you have seen made or tasted, you'll need to do that process on any blind new recipe.

    If you are happy with the spice levels and flavor intensity and stock consistancey, then you are 90% there. Then adjust salt, sugar and fish sauce intensity to suit.

    I'd also suggest trying to find a local restaurant that serves a good Pho and use that to guage changes you need to make in your own stock, That's the process I used and it worked magnificently.

    Just because recipies are on the interwebz doesn't mean they are fully sorted or TNT.

    You're on the right path and just need to dot the i's and cross the t's to get that restaurant quality end product.

    Heck, I even do Pho takeaway a few times a month and for a few lower end Vietnamese restaurants in town I have to doctor up thier stock to get it to my taste levels by adding sugar, fish sauce or a pinch of ground star anise.


    2 Replies
    1. re: jjjrfoodie

      Thanks JJJrFoodie. I do try local Vietnamese restaurants quiet a lot. I tried them from Bay Area California, to Los Angles California, to Georgia, to Utah... etc. They all taste slightly different, but they are also not all that different. Let's say they all taste stronger than mine. That is for sure. Yes, you are correct. These recipes I find online may not be fully sorted which is my theory number 2. Thanks for your response.

      1. I've tried quite a few recipes. Most recipes I've tried seemed to be bland compared to restaurant stocks. However, the recipe from "Steamy Kitchen" turned out the best so far.

        3 Replies
        1. re: dave_c


          Thanks dave.
          I never thought to roast the ginger and onion to carmelize but I'll do it next time.

          I always found the goal of pho broth is to have an underlying beef broth flavor that is then balanced with the flavorful spices and has sweet/salty/sour balance.

          I have used lemongrass stalk as the OP listed, but also found a squirt of lemon or lime juice in the broth at time of serving adds a bit of sourness to balance the sweet. Too much star anise overwhelms as does too much fish sauce.

          It really is a fine line to walk. I;ve also used beef base or chicken base to make the stock as opposed to doing a bone and meat style correct/traditional stock with good results albeit a short-cutted kinda cheating one. LOL.

          It's a process that when nailed correctly, brings giddy screams of joy in the kitchen.


          1. re: jjjrfoodie

            Pho in Hanoi is pure beef flavor, with some spices for aroma, and it has elements of sweet/salty/sour, but nothing that you would call a balance of sweet, salty and sour. I think of that as more of a goal in Thai cooking. My family doesn't add sugar at all.

            The first time I had pho in Hanoi, I swooned, and my dad agreed that it was the best pho anywhere.

            1. re: jjjrfoodie

              Thanks Dave. I have seen other recipes for roasting the onion and ginger as well. It will definitely give it a different flavor. The lemon grass is used in some of the recipe I read online and I have talked to some owner of the Pho restaurant and they say they use them. Now that I doubted the salt and fishsauce and added lime (at the end), the broth really taste much closer to how I remember it from various restaurants. Thanks.

          2. Lemongrass is just not done. ;) Sour is added by squeezing some lime at the end.

            1. yes, very most probably.

            2. there are different styles of pho! and "clean" and "delicate" is one style. This style is not mucked up with too many different spices; I've seen recipes that call for cardamom and fennel seed, which I'm not sure even grow in Vietnam (in any case, they are unusual.)

            Yes, I've always found pho broth in restaurants to be tastier, but I usually attribute that to restaurants using more beef to make their broth (I guess my mom is cheap because I've never seen her buy bones for pho) and the fat content is much higher.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jaykayen

              :) Yeah, I do that too a couple of slice of lime, cilantro, bean sprout...., but I figure that I have never ever used lemongrass before, so I gave it a try. Your reply is very helpful. I didn't know there are many style of Pho. I guess I just kept having the same kind from various restaurants.

              P.S.: Yes, after buying all the marrow bone and oxtail, I realize it is not cheap to make the stock -- not even close and time is very length. I spent about 6 hours on average just for the stock and that is really the only thing. Afterall, I bought the fresh noodle, so there is not much else.

            2. It is not the recipes that are the problem, or even lack of salt or seasoning per se.

              The issue is one of time, or lack of it on your end.

              Most Vietnamese restaurants that serve pho, at least the good ones, nurture their pho broth essentially without end. They start a pho broth, and simply add bones to it and keep it on a gentle simmer for, essentially, like forever. The heat on the pot is never turned off (yes, even when they shutter for the night -- it's kept on a gentle simmer).

              This long nurturing process gives a body to the broth that you simply cannot achieve at home by just making one pot from scratch - no matter what recipe you are using.

              It's not a recipe issue, but rather an issue of systemic process in how the broth is started (e.g. like a sourdough starter) and then nurtured until full maturity.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Yes, I suspect that she needs to cook it far longer and also to reduce it at the end.

              2. Theres also the question of mouth feel.
                I picked up some take-out pho a few days ago. The broth was separate from everything else. I ate about half and popped the rest in the fridge. Next day, the broth had gelled and was the consistency of soft jello.
                So theres alot of collagen in there. giving it that unctious, silky mouth feel. So lots of correct bones and a long simmer is definitely needed.

                1 Reply
                1. re: porker

                  Don't worry mine turns into jello in refrigerator for sure :) Thanks for making sure.

                2. From the about.com recipe:
                  "Add the fish sauce, salt and sugar into the stock. Adjust the taste to your liking by varying the amounts of these ingredients. Bear in mind that the noodles will reduce the saltiness of the soup."

                  Some times I end spending 10 minutes or more adjusting the saltiness of a soup - add taste and add again and again. ....

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: paulj

                    This is my problem. I often like to adjust the saltiness at the end of cooking because my taste is off when the soup/broth hot. Once a soup cool down, it always taste more salty to me.

                  2. I take a coffee filter and put star anise, cloves, coriander, black cardamon, a cinnamon in there and tie it off and float it in the liquid while making the stock in a pressure cooker. Instead of salt rely on fish sauce for the saltiness. I also add Palm sugar or Mexican raw brown sugar to balance out the flavors.

                    1. I took the Steamy Kitchen recipe and tweaked it a bit, adding one more onion and about a kilo of flank/tendon to the simmering broth. I had the butcher slice my bones lengthwise so I get every single bit of marrow and fat from the interior. I like my pho broth a bit richer, anyway.

                      I thought 3 hours of simmering time from the original recipe sounded a bit short to truly bring out the flavors of the beef bones. I'll probably double the simmering time.

                      For the OP: as with any recipe, I think the key with these types of generic recipes is to adjust to your taste, especially with salt/fish sauce at the end. You might also try adding MSG, as most pho restaurants use a hefty amount of it in their broth. I know I'm going to get some naysayers on here by suggesting MSG, but it might be the flavor enhancer that your palate is seeking from your homemade version.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mayt


                        Thanks for your input. Yes, I started to use the Steamy Kitchen recipe and tweaked a bit. I think adding a lemon grass and with sufficient salt really bring the my final stock much closer to the restaurant stocks which I remember. Yes, I also simmered a bit longer too, probably 4-5 hours. As for the bone marrow, I used a chopstick to dig out the marrow in the middle of the cooking. Now, I know the restaurants must have used quiet a bit of salt.

                        1. re: mayt

                          I agree about the MSG. My best friend's mom makes great pho and she uses all the real deal bones and meats, but she also stirs in some MSG and salt laden Quoc Viet Pho Soup base. I hear that many restaurants do the same.

                        2. Here's Andrea Nguyen's recipe which I think is amazing. Last time I doubled the recipe (bought a new, 20 qt. stock pot just for this reason) so now I have quarts in the freezer. The grilling of the onion and ginger is key IMO.


                          ETA: I call it "pho jus" :)

                            1. re: darrentran87

                              Why? I use MSG but not in this dish.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Agreed with c oliver. I have nothing against MSG, but you're already adding fish sauce to beef stock - there should be plenty of glutamate to go around. What's the point?

                            2. Toasting the spices seem to be missing from both recipes.
                              As c oliver has said grilling the onions and ginger are really important for taste and color. I do both unpeeled over a open flame till charred all over then wipe off most of the char and crush.
                              A good extraction from large beef bones really takes 12 hours. None of the restaurants I know do an "Eternal" stock as suggested above. You should be able to turn out a stock that is superior to what most Phở joints do.

                              14 Replies
                              1. re: chefj

                                I've been using cows' feet and really like that. Nguyen's recipe has you do a pre/par-boil which gets rid of lots of the "junk." Not a technique I'd heard of before but it sure made a nice base to start.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  Yeah the first time I talked to a Restaurant owner about making the broth I kept asking her if she was sure that "I threw out the water and put more water". I thought I was misunderstanding her. It works great for getting a crystal clear broth.
                                  For flavor I found that not skimping on the meats ( brisket and flank) and Neck bones (which also have a lot of meat on them) really yields a good strong beef flavor.

                                  1. re: chefj

                                    "I threw out the water and put more water"... It works great for getting a crystal clear broth.

                                    Yeah, I think it is a more Asian technique by tossing out the first 5 minutes of stock. I think the idea is more than just the crystal clear look, but rather about the blood smell/favor. When the meat hits the boiling water, the blood denature and coagulate within seconds and the idea is to remove those -- or so say the theory.

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      "When the meat hits the boiling water, the blood denature and coagulate within seconds and the idea is to remove those -- or so say the theory."
                                      The water is brought to a boil before the meat is added, cooked 5 minutes, and discarded? Or the meat is added to cold water which is then brought to a boil and discarded? I had always assumed it was the latter, but I don't really know.

                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                        You are correct. Come to think of it, the traditional method is to put the meat in the cold water and bring the water to boil, and then discard the first batch of liquid after the boil. I think the idea is to cook the meat thoroughly, so there is no liquid blood in the meat. I guess the first method should work as well, but yes, you are correct, most of the time it is the second method which you have mentioned.

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          ""Parboil bones. Place bones in stockpot (minimum 12-quart capacity) and cover with cold water. Over high heat, bring to boil. Boil vigorously 2 to 3 minutes to allow impurities to be released. Dump bones and water into sink and rinse bones with warm water. Quickly scrub stockpot to remove any residue. Return bones to pot."

                                          It's all I've ever made so have nothing to compare it to, but it is so,so good.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            :) I can tell. I think you said that you made a 12 quart Pho stock and freeze it. What do you use beside Pho? For the last few times I made my beef pho stock, they tasted good, but I always had too much stock (~4 quarts) compare to the pho noodle and I was already eating pho for 3 days straight. It does get old after a bit. On the other hand, making ~2 quart Pho stock seems wasteful in term of time and labor.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              I freeze it in one quart containers. Then we can have pho whenever we want. It seems very luxurious.

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                CK, a big batch of stock takes pretty much the same amount of time as a small batch, so making two or three small batches is much more wasteful compared to one big batch. Stock freezes quite well and will keep a long time in air tight containers. I freeze pho and other stocks in leftover 1-pint plastic containers, then pop them out and vacuum bag the frozen bricks. A month later they make pho just as good as day one. Probably keep for much longer.

                                                ps - pho to the vietnamese seems a lot like gumbo to Louisianans. Everyone has their favorite recipe. Me, I start with Andrea Nguyen's recipe but leave out the cloves, use half as much cinnamon, add a little more star anise, and toss in some kaffir lime leaves (yes, more thai than vietnamese, but I like it and have a tree in my yard).

                                  2. re: chefj

                                    Do you simmer the bones with the aromatics and spices for the whole twelve hours? Because I find that after even a couple of hours or less, the aroma and flavors of the aromatics start to go south and begin to have a "swampy" overcooked flavor to them.

                                    1. re: takadi

                                      No actually I make a hybrid stock. It is not traditional as far as I know but it gives me great results.
                                      I start with the washing and blanching of the bones and make an extraction with out the meats or seasonings. Then go ahead with the Traditional method with my initial "plain stock" adding the long cooked meats early on and the seasoning for the couple of hours or so.
                                      Granted I have Professional kitchen at my disposal so this more complicated method is not a big deal for me as it would be for a home kitchen..

                                      1. re: chefj

                                        To me that sounds like how most pho restaurants make their stock. Make an initial stock with bones that simmers all day, and then preparing batches of meat with the aromatics and spices according to order, allowing for a fresher taste and intensifying the stock as the day goes on. It's not traditional in the western sense but the chinese utilize this technique with "master stocks"

                                        1. re: takadi

                                          I did not realize that that is the way that the Vietnamese pros do it but as I said i got great results.
                                          I though the idea of Master stock in the Chinese food world was that you use the same liquid cooking medium to cook meats in over and over again. One starts with a basic Red Cooking mixture of soy, sugar, wine with aromatics according to region. You just keep adding seasonings and liquid to replenish with each batch of cooking. Sort of a perpetual cooking sauce.

                                          1. re: chefj

                                            Yes that sounds about right. It isn't exactly the same as the "hybrid stock" method you describe but it sounded similar enough for me to give it a mention.